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The bases of power in leadership is a work of social psychologists Bertram Raven and John French published in 1959. The bases of power by French and Raven categorized the source of power into 5 sources. However, six years later Raven added an “Informational Power” as the 6th power of leadership.

What is Bases of Power

Bases of power in leadership are 5 important sources of power that the leader can have. The 5 bases of power are includes: legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, referent power and expert power. Leader can use these power to influences people to follow and believe in their order.

  1. Legitimate Power – the power based on position of leader.
  2. Reward Power – the ability of leader to influences others people with valued reward.
  3. Coercive Power – the power to control people with fears and rules.
  4. Referent Power – the power based on personal attractiveness.
  5. Expert Power – the power come from leader’s knowledge or expertise in his/her job.
  6. Informational Power – power when you know some information but others don’t.

The 5 bases of power is one of the most useful tools to understand the sources of leader power in the organization management. Furthermore, French and Raven’s sources of power can also use as a checklist to identify the power that’s the leader have.

In additional, these 5 bases of power by French and Raven can separate into 2 groups (as an image below), which include personal power and formal power.

All of these bases of power are potentially important because the central to effective leadership management is power, the power is ability to order other people. In organizations management, this influence often means the ability to get things done or accomplish the objective.


Legitimate Power

Legitimate power is a positional power. Legitimate power is a very basic base of power of leadership in organization because the legitimate power is came with the leader’s position. The leader with legitimate power has the right or the authority to order their subordinate. For example, a CEO formulate the business direction and assign objective to middle level management.

In contrast, the middle level manager cannot order the CEO which is the top level management, the middle level manager has no legitimate power over the top level management person. To put it simply, the higher level of management the more legitimate power.

Reward Power

Reward power is ability of leader to influences others people with valued reward. People follow the leader’s orders to receive those rewards. For example, a logistics manager try to achieve better transportation accuracy to get better review, and get big bonus from performance review. Leader who motivate employees with reward power can make employees work more effectively.

Salary hikes, paid leave, annual bonus, extra bonus, extra vacation, and promotion are all example of reward power.

However, if the organization have policy to increase same amount of salary to everyone, reward power will be powerless because people can’t have higher raises, and leader can’t motivate employees’ performance with salary hike.

Coercive Power

Coercive power in the organization is similar to legitimate power, but it’s control people by fear. The source of coercive power is come from punishments, so the leader can only punish the lower level manager. For example, a manager punish employees who against organization’s policy.

On the other hand, coercive power can’t use too much because this power can make people dissatisfied. In worst case,  this power can make people leave the organization. 

As you might guess, the lower-level managers have less legitimate, coercive, and reward power than middle-level and higher level managers.

Referent Power

The leader with referent power has interpersonal relationships with other people in the organization, people comply the leader with referent power because of admiration or personal liking the manager.

There are many ways to obtain the referent power. For instance, personal style, respectable character, entertain, and other good characteristic. In contrast, the manager who is incompetent, disliked, or less respected will have less referent power.

Expert Power

Expert power is a base of power from knowledge or expertise of the leader. People follow the leader who has expert power because they believe in the leader’s skills. You might say this is like, knowledge is power.

For instance, a procurement manager his/her employees some negotiation skills to get a better price (and it’s works). So, these people will respect this manager’s skills. On the other hand, the manager who lack in expertise or knowledge of their jobs will have less expert power, and may have less respect from their subordinate.

Bases of Power in Conclusion

Bases of power are also known as 5 sources of power, they are five types of power of the leader in organization, which includes leader who are in a position that has the right to order others people, leader who can motivate people with rewards, leader who has the right to punish people, leader who are well liked, and leader who have expertise or knowledge in his/her job.

  • Legitimate Power is the leader who are in a position that has the right to order others people.
  • Reward Power is the leader who can reward people to motivate them.
  • Coercive Power is the leader who are in a position that has the right to punish people to make them don’t break the rules.
  • Referent Power is who are well liked from people in their organization.
  • Expert Power is the leader who have knowledge or expertise in his/her job.
  • Informational Power is power from you know some information but others don’t.

Although, all of these bases of power are important to any leader in any organization. But the most powerful source of power that really important to the lead the organization is formal power which include; legitimate power, reward power, and coercive power because these bases of power can really control and order people to make thing done.